union for life

Health and safety

Health and safety in the energy sector

Introduction

The energy sector has a proud history and this includes safety, not surprisingly given the inherent dangers of generating, transmitting and distributing sources of power. The 'Union Safety Effect' is key to safeguarding workers and the general public and our reps have long been very active.

'Health' however has historically been a weaker partner. There are epidemiological surveys with long-term medical monitoring of cohorts of workers who may have been exposed to specific hazards. But reps do not share with other sectors the same experience of tackling contemporary health problems such as stress-related ill health, fatigue, work-life balance and the effects of shift work. This can change.

The sector resources some excellent occupational health practitioners who are actively implementing a range of innovative initiatives, many of which constitute best practice within the UK. Our task therefore is to ensure our H&S Reps are active and competent participants in health and in safety.

Prospect involvement

In the electricity industry, this is helped by Prospect's lead involvement in National HESAC and the Powering Improvement campaign. A key strand is worker involvement which Prospect is pushing.

Worker involvement in the Energy Sector

The sector has some very good standards of involvement, particularly in respect of union H&S reps. Good practice includes:

  • agreeing programmes of joint health and safety inspections or surveys
  • jointly investigating accidents, incidents, complaints and ill health – subject to Data Protection requirements and agreement about the role the union representative is fulfilling.
  • trade union H&S rep training being supplemented with company bespoke training, in one company jointly with middle managers. 

The sector also has a long history of consulting its employees, typically via long-established statutory consultation committees. However their effectiveness and coherence is open to question. Our efforts to communicate the Powering Improvement strategy and messages have highlighted disconnects between national and local HESACs and uncertainty about the consultation structures and arrangements within the member companies.

Within member companies a range of committees exist, either reflecting historic company structures, regions or a mixture of these. Some member companies themselves lack certainty about their own ‘map’ of committees and how they interact.

The emergence and growing use of contractors and subcontractors adds to a fragmentation that challenges communications within the sector. Evidence suggests that few of these companies have consultation arrangements in place.

National HESAC has agreed: that member companies revisit and map their worker involvement arrangements to ensure they meet at least the statutory minimum requirements contained in HSE publications L146 and HSG263.

What it looks like....

...when done effectively

  •  Provision of information and training to enable staff to work in a safe and healthy manner

  • Worker H&S reps* carry out their full range of functions either independently or, if agreed, jointly with management

  • Worker H&S reps are involved in risk assessment

  • Worker H&S reps are consulted in good time on matters relating to their health and safety and the results of risk assessments (eg systems of work including procedures).

  • Contributions worker H&S reps make are considered before health and safety management decisions are made. Where they are deemed inappropriate, worker reps are given the reasons.

  • Worker reps are valued and comfortable reporting staff concerns without fear of disadvantage.

  • The company has key performance indicators for worker involvement, progress against which is reviewed and reported.

...when done badly or not at all

  • Employees lack the right level of information or training needed to do their job in a safe and healthy manner

  • Worker H&S reps cannot carry out their functions – eg not released, cover not provided.

  • Risk assessments are made by management without worker ‘voice’

  • Change and new technologies are introduced without the involvement of staff in assessing how they may affect worker health or safety, so staff have no sense of ownership

  • Health and safety controls don’t seem practical or employees have to work around difficulties.

  • Supervisors or line managers don’t discuss:

- how to do a job safely

- how safely to use new equipment

  • Staff don’t know to whom they would go to if they had health and safety concerns.

  • There is little or no evidence of information being cascaded through the organisation

 

Powering Improvement

Each year has a specific theme identified as a priority area for the sector. Below are links to selected tools and evidence generated by the project and likely to be of value to Prospect reps:

 SECTOR safety alerts

FMJL Current Transformer (CT) Failures

Incidents involving poles

Substations and reporting vandalism etc

HV oil-filled switchgear probes

Catastrophic failure of tap changer  - Slideshow presentation

 

These pages are work in progress. Please send info, comments, ideas to safetyreps@prospect.org.uk